Library branch’s million-dollar makeover pays off
BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
The Pelham Public Library’s Maple Acre Branch celebrated its birthday last Tuesday, marking the first anniversary of its re-opening after the construction of a new wing.
“I had my grandkids with me today, and we just had to stop by,” said Kathy Gorman, who lives in Fonthill. “I had a birthday card in the car, but thought that it was a bit much.”
Gorman’s grandchildren, Lukas and Marissa, had become so engrossed at the Fenwick branch, playing with other kids in the children’s section, that they hadn’t wanted to go back to the Fonthill branch, where an “Art Buddies” event was ongoing. Plus there were cookies.
“I’ve only had one,” said Lukas, as he stood between the counter and the cookie cart. Circulation clerk Brynley Eckhart smiled, and said that she thought he had exerted impressive self-control.
“I would have had a lot more than that,” she admitted.
In 2013, the possibility of Maple Acre’s shuttering provoked an uproar in Fenwick, and eventually Council authorized a $1 million renovation and addition to the branch. Part of the old building was demolished and replaced with a much larger modern structure attached to a heritage wing.
“On snowy days before, we might have seen just five people—and that’s for an eight-hour shift,” said Eckhart. She turned to Library CEO Kirk Weaver for the exact new numbers.
“We were at 20,000 in 2017,” said Weaver. “The last time that the Maple Acre Branch had the same kind of hours that we have was in 2012. That year there were only 8400 people in the library.”
Weaver attributed this to the many options that the new building provides.
“The library isn’t just a place for books anymore. It’s a public space—so we have a meeting room, and children’s area, and this lounge area. We can have events here now, so we have a kids book club and a science buddies program. Some of the enrolment in these programs is higher here than in Fonthill,” he said, sitting in the lounge area.
Weaver credited the library’s staff for the creation of interesting programming and for attracting residents to the new branch, and said that they’re always looking for ways to improve.
Fenwick resident Lynn Shatford waved hello to Weaver. “Happy anniversary,” she said to him. Weaver thanked her and reminded her that she and her family had been the first visitors to the branch upon its re-opening a year ago.
“That’s right,” said Shatford. “It’s been a great year—this place is so wonderful.”
On Tuesdays, Weaver works out of the Maple Acre, which he says is a nice change from Fonthill. Previously, the branch was open just two days a week, and with one staff member.
“Now that it’s bigger and we have more people coming through, we have two librarians here whenever it’s open. They really love it here, don’t they?” he said, turning to Eckhart. “Maybe I should go out of the room when you answer.”
“I was one of the librarians working here before the renovations, and now we all get to work here at least one shift a week,” she said. She pointed to the floor-to-ceiling windows at the library’s front.
“There’s so much natural light here, and the carpet is so comforting.” Lukas Gorman stood on that carpet in his socks.
In addition to programming, Weaver explained that the library had initiated a “roaming collection,” meaning that instead of remaining at one branch, books and movies are cycled between the two branches.
“This way someone will be able to come here and not see the same titles all of the time. We want to find ways to have people come into the branch. Because if they come once, they’re probably going to come back,” he said.
Kathy Gorman lives in Fonthill, though her grandchildren live in Fenwick, giving her enough reason to visit Maple Acre. Just before the library closed at five, she was still in the children’s room with Lukas and Marissa.
“I want to go,” said Marissa.
“I want to stay,” said Lukas.
“All right,” said Gorman. “How about two more minutes?” Lukas and Marissa nodded in agreement and went back to tinkering with their toys. Both of them go to school in Fenwick, and Gorman said that the library’s close proximity to the newly reopened Wellington Heights Elementary School meant that a lot of students stop in the library on their way home from school.
Gorman worked at a school herself, teaching for many years at E. L. Crossley after beginning her career at Welland High. “Things were different in those days, but we had such respect for the immigrant families,” she said.
“A mother came in on parents night, dragging her troublemaking son by the ear. ‘If my Frankie does anything wrong, you tell me,’ she said. Well, we felt a little sorry for Frankie after that.”
She looked down at Marissa, who was now pretending to cut through a table with a plastic saw.
“All right, it’s time to let the librarians go,” she said. “And grandma has roast chicken for you at home.”